It’s that time of year again. The biggest craft beer festival in the country. The Great American Beer Festival. Inside of Denver’s massive Convention Center and with over 800 breweries in attendance its easy to get overwhelmed. Follow these ten survival tips to keep your feet on the ground, your pretzel necklace stocked, and beer in your taster glass.
1. Download the My GABF app.
It’s 2017 now! No need to putz around aimlessly like past festivals. Plan ahead and get the My GABF app on your phone to help orient yourself for the coming event. Navigate the Convention Center with floor map, locate your favorite breweries and set your strategy. You can even rate and taste every beer you get your hands on at the festival.
2. Don’t come on an empty stomach.
This one goes without saying but showing up to a beer festival with nothing in your belly might stop you dead in your tracks. Come in nice and satiated so you can start sampling the best the festival has to offer right out of the gate.
3. Wear comfortable shoes.
The Denver Convention Center is a massive beast. With the exhibit hall over 500,000 square feet in size, filled head to toe with brewers, exhibitors, food vendors, and entertainment, its safe to say you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Fly effortlessly from one section to the next with some comfy footwear.
Pro Tip: Leave the flip flops and sandals at home. Beer everywhere and tipsy festival goers makes for some smelly wet feet.
4. Pace yourself.
Another given, but all those bourbon barrel aged stout samples really start to sneak up on you. Instead of diving in front of every brewery booth take time using the GABF app and a map of the Convention Center to plan out the breweries you definitely want to hit and others you’d like to try. The exhibit hall floor is dotted with numerous water stations so take time in between tastings for a breather and to rehydrate.
5. Wear your food.
The ultimate form of preparation and a Great American Beer Festival staple. To keep your palate cleansed and a snack close at hand festival goers have long entered the hall with necklaces strung with salty treats. Simple pretzels are most common but I have come across everything from links of sausage to sticks of beef jerky to balls of fried dough. The Convention Center has a policy of not allowing visitors to carry outside food into the hall. Wearing your food instead of carrying it is a delicious loop hole in the system.
6. Get out of your beer comfort zone.
With so many breweries in attendance its easy to storm into the exhibit hall and drink all of your favorite familiar brews all night. By all means hit up those breweries that are near and dear to your heart but also take advantage of the scope of the event. Breweries are coming from all over the country offering beer in one location that some only offer locally. This is a great opportunity to try a new brewery, throw your taste buds through the ringer with all kinds of experimental brews, and hopefully discover a new favorite to add to your list.
7. Respect your palate.
At the same time it is totally okay to not like everything that gets put in your taster glass. Each brewery booth has a bucket for you to dump any unwanted beer. Maybe that sour was too sour, that IPA was too bitter, or maybe that porter with ancho chilis was just a little too ambitious. No one will gasp and shun you if they see you pour out some beer. There’s plenty of beer to go around, its better to empty your glass and move on to the next brew than to ruin your palate and choke down everything you try.
8. Drink local….from everywhere!
This one needs some explaining. Of course you’re drinking local because you’re drinking craft but for the GABF you have a country’s worth of beer packed all into one place. The exhibit hall is typically organized by geographic region. Sections such as breweries from New England, the Midwest, and West Coast are all grouped together. You could easily sample beers all night and never leave the state of California. Make sure you take a gander at a map of the Convention Center and spread yourself out so you get something tasty from every state in the Union.
9. Hang onto your taster glass.
When you enter the Great American Beer Festival you will be issued one plastic taster glass. That will be your best friend for the rest of the night. Don’t let it out of your sight. No taster, no beer. In addition to the importance of the taster glass it is also seen as a festival faux pas to fumble your glass. The clattering sound of plastic tasters on the floor is usually met with friendly jeers from the surrounding crowd. To avoid this social slip up some people even come with ringed lanyards to hang their glass securely around their necks.
10. Engage with brewers
I know time is limited and there is so much to see during the festival but it is also great to spend some extra time at some booths. If things aren’t too crazy at a vendor use this opportunity to ask some questions of the brewer; get their opinions on whats on tap, learn a little bit about the brewing process, or dig into their creative minds. Pro Tip: If you are coming from out of town this is a great chance to get the low down from Denver brewers. Many breweries are holding special events outside of the festival, complete with limited beer releases and special batches. Its a great chance to get the insider scoop and maybe plan the rest of your stay in the city.
What are some of your survival tips for the GABF? Anything I missed? How do you prepare or plan out your strategy to attack the exhibit floor?
The majority of people pouring you beers at each booth are volunteers and not associated with the brewery. If you’re looking for more in-depth info about a particular beer or brewery you’ll need to locate the brewmaster or other brewery reps behind the table or in the vicinity of the booth.